What is FAFSA®?

FAFSA® is also known as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) is a form available to current and future college students in both undergraduate and graduate programs that helps them determine how much need-based financial aid they’re eligible to receive. Students can fill out this form each year to apply for loans, federal grants, and work-study programs to help pay for their college education.

The United States Department of Education administers some of the money for these programs. Each year it offers around $150 billion in student aid, but your child has to apply for FAFSA® before they can get access to any of that money.

Applying For FAFSA®

The FAFSA® form asks for financial information and basic personal information. If your child is under 24-years old, unmarried, and without dependents, or other criteria aren’t met, they will need information from their legal parents as well. You’ll have to provide information that includes your income and assets and basic facts about your household.  

The information you provide must be accurate as of that day. If you find a mistake before the FAFSA® deadline for that year you can go back and make corrections. Keep in mind that your child has to fill out a new version of FAFSA® each school year if they want to stay eligible for aid. Additionally, some colleges require that students fill out the FAFSA® each year, even if they don’t require aid.

Documents You’ll Need When Filing FAFSA®

When your children are ready to fill out FAFSA® online, they’ll create an FSA ID to log in and sign the form electronically. Additionally, they’ll need to have the following information:

  • Their parents’ social security number
  • Their own social security number
  • Their driver’s license number if they have one
  • Their Alien Registration number if they’re not a U.S. citizen
  • Their federal tax information or your tax returns if they’re a dependent
  • Records of untaxed income, such as interest income, child support received, and veterans non-education benefits from everyone in the family
  • Information about checking and savings account balances; cash; investments, such as stocks, bonds, and real estate; and business and farm assets for everyone in the family

It’s a good idea to keep these records safe and on-hand as your child will need them to file FAFSA® each year.

Misconceptions About FAFSA®

Often, many families and students don’t bother filling out FAFSA® because they think they make too much to be eligible for aid, that the form is too complicated to fill out, that only students with excellent grades get financial aid, or that they’re too old to qualify for financial aid. However, many of these assumptions just aren’t true.  

There’s no income cut-off to qualify for student aid, and many factors besides income, including parent’s age and family size, get taken into consideration. The FAFSA® form isn’t hard to fill out. Plus, although there are basic eligibility requirements for FAFSA®, age is not one of them.   Finally, although a high-grade point average can help students get academic scholarships, most federal student aid programs don’t take grades into consideration.

How to get an early financial aid estimate

You can use the FAFSA4caster® to get an early estimate of the amount of student aid your children can receive. This is a good tool to use if you’re not ready to fill out FAFSA® yet, or if you’re looking for information to help you plan for college savings.   Any student can use it to get an idea of their eligibility for aid. Parents of younger children can use FAFSA4Caster® to get early estimates of aid their children can get in the future so they can start college funding strategies.

Even adult students can use it to get an idea of how much aid they might be eligible to receive.   Keep in mind that even if FAFSA4Caster® says your family’s income and assets put your children out of range for grants, it’s still worth completing FAFSA®. This is because most colleges, foundations, and state scholarship agencies use FAFSA® to decide who they’re going to award scholarship money to and how much each student will receive. Finally, filling out FAFSA® automatically qualifies you for at least $5,500 in low-interest federal loans for one year. 

Filling Out FAFSA®

There are a few ways to fill out the FAFSA® form. The fastest and easiest way to apply is online. If this doesn’t work, there are also paper versions of the form. Although most high schools, libraries, and colleges no longer have bulk copies of these forms, students can get up to three copies by calling 1-877-433-7827. Students can also check with the financial aid office at their college. Some schools have special software that can fill out and submit FAFSA® forms for them.

FAFSA® Deadlines

There are deadlines for filling out the FAFSA® form, so it’s important you keep that information in mind so you don’t miss out on the opportunity for aid. FAFSA® opens on October 1, and you want to make sure your children file as early as possible so they’re at the front of the line for aid. However, states, colleges, and other financial aid programs may all have different deadlines. Be sure you check on websites and with the school’s financial aid office to make sure you don’t miss a deadline.

What Happens After You File FAFSA®?

The information you provide on FAFSA® is used to determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Although the EFC is the amount you’re expected to pay toward your child’s college education, you’re not required to provide that amount.   Schools will then use the EFC to calculate how much government aid their child can receive. Most schools also use the EFC to calculate how much aid your child is eligible for from their own funds.

The EFC comes in a document called the Student Aid Report (SAR), which you can expect to receive about one to three weeks after you submit the FAFSA® form.   FAFSA® is an important part of helping your child pay for his or her college education. Even if you’re absolutely sure you will have no issue paying out of pocket for your child’s higher education, it’s a good idea to take the time to fill out the FAFSA®.